Jan 15

Listening to World War 2 In a Very Large and Beautiful Room

While I have heard orchestras at ballets and at operas a number of times, with great pleasure, I had never been to the symphony per se till Friday. I saw that there was a double bill of Gershwin “opening” with a delightful concerto of 1930 era urban music, and SHOSTAKOVICH whom I’ve always been drawn to, as the “headline” composer, with his Symphony No. 8 Op. 65–so we had to go. This was the Oakland symphony (a town thirty percent African American but the only black person I could see on stage was the conductor– to be fair, trained and talented orchestral musicians aren’t a dime a dozen, they’re relatively hard to find) and they did a sublime job in a sublime venue: the Paramount Theater, a beautiful art deco theater from 1930.

The Gershwin piece we heard, “opening”, was his Concerto in F. Listening to it I felt wasn’t just a musical poet of the teeming, clamorous city, he was witty about it, somehow, even teasing at times: you can see the people strutting about in your mind’s eye; or standing late at night under a streetlamp, deciding if they want to go home; energized and melancholic and rueful by turns, perhaps even flirtatiously tipsy.

The conductor explained that the Gershwin was partly chosen to soften the blow, so to speak, of the Shostakovich number, the symphony being a bit grim for some people. It was composed in 1943 and is largely about battles (and civilian suffering) in WW2 as the Nazis attempt to overrun Russia and the Soviet people pay a terrible price to defeat them. The conductor said that it tacitly reflected the terrible choice–let the Nazis conquer them and be stuck with Hitler or defeat them and be stuck with Stalin! The politboro didn’t approve of the symphony because it was not “triumphal” enough–it is, purely in music, about the horror of war, about human struggle, and then about life going on, not about the Triumph of the USSR.

The setting, the orchestra, the music–it was splendor. Micky Shirley and i enjoyed it enormously. It was a reminder of the better part of civilization, the way the event was carried out, and I was chagrined to see that 75% of people in the audience (the concert was nearly sold out) were quite elderly. It made me wonder, “Dying art form?” But then did I go to the symphony when I was young? No. Sometimes the ballet, but never a symphony, though I did listen to Stravinski and some others… By the way the last concert of any kind I went to before the symphony was Le Butcherettes and the Melvins. Quite a contrast–and so it should be. Every art form has its own appropriate (or appropriately inappropriate) response.

The Shostakovich symphony (another orchestra) on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDuB8gRbDI0

Jan 15

The Internet Left…as opposed to The Actual Left

There’s such a thing as “the Internet Left”. This isn’t the real left’s use of the internet, which is a good thing–eg, Mother Jones online, The Nation online, MoveOn.org programs–no, it isn’t that.

The Internet Left (and yes there’s an Internet Right too, even larger), is all about making decisions about America via memes; it’s about getting stoned and watching youtube videos suggesting that “Fascism Has Already Come and You Are Its Slave, Fool!” It’s about assuming that you’re so important to the world that the NSA is breathlessly reading your email. It’s about 9/11 Truthers and loopy notions that the USA is about to invade China. It’s kneejerk reactions, judgements made without real research. It’s assuming that everything said about the Obama administration’s prosecution of people who were doing illegal things with state secrets is true; it’s assuming that because a few smug internet pundits say that the President is against a free and open internet that he really *is* against it (whereas he keeps saying over and over again he supports net neutrality, and free and open internet); that the President took us into “a war” when we had a minor supporting role in the overthrow of Khadaffi in Libya…

They twitch and decide that every last politician anywhere is a puppet of Wall Street; that voting is giving into the corporatocracy and not voting is somehow a meaningful protest. That there was a nationwide conspiracy to undermine Occupy Wall Street (it did a fine job of undermining itself). That terrorism isn’t real, that al Qaeda doesn’t exist because someone in a video somewhere quoted one line from one CIA report saying that there’s no one center to al Qaeda…

The Internet Left is about deciding, without really deciding, that if an idea is repeated enough online with clever pictorial imagery then it’s true. And this superficiality makes these people the tools of the right; it often puts them in flaky enough territory that they flake off into supporting Rand Paul and other libertarians, without acknowledging that libertarians are fine with deregulating industry and consequently destroying the environment.

The only solution is –read deeply, and make up your mind only when you get all the facts, not cherrypicked facts. And do not assume that one guy having a PhD means that when he says 9/11 was an inside demolition job, why, It Must Be True. Do not assume that terrorism is a boogeyman made up by the establishment to keep us in war–because if you’re wrong, we’re going to lose an entire city. And for God’s Sake, or Goddess’s Sake, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Sake, don’t decline to vote because someone told you it doesn’t make a difference.

For a good many people, the Internet Left is about laziness. It’s much easier to let your opinion be formed by snarky internet-comment sophistry than to do the footwork and get out there and vote. It’s easier to stay at home and yawn and and practice sneering.

Jan 15

His Final Reward

As his soul descended toward the shining plane where he was to receive his 72 virgins and the other rewards of heaven in service to Jihad, Amedy had to admit to himself that he’d had some doubts. But the imam had assured him that such doubts were normal and what mattered was his actions. He had killed for the holy cause and had been killed by the French special forces, and now he had no doubts at all–for here was the shining place, and beautiful young women, row upon row, coming toward him. They were appareled in gauze, and their lips were parted and desire shown in their eyes. “Thank God you are here!” one of them cried. “We have waited what seems an eternity to feed!” And so saying she opened her mouth wide, and her filed teeth gleamed in the growing firelight and she was the first to tear into his flesh; the pain and blood seemed quite organic and real and the others were soon upon him. It seemed to go on for an eternity…and the flames laughed at him…

Jan 15

Sunlight’s Ghost

Just now letting the dogs back in, almost eleven thirty, I went a few steps out on the back porch (in my underwear, I confess) to see the full moon’s light. I put my hand out, and got moonlight on my hand. It is a never ending source of wonder to me how the light from the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light–or rather, it has sifted sunlight, altered it, and sent it on its way. Besides having a different quality of shine, this pallid sheen is changed by its momentary visit to the surface of the moon. This silvery-white light on my hand has literally *been upon the surface of the moon* only moments ago. It looks like the sunlight died on the lifeless gray surface and this moonlight is its ghost… Of course sunlight is at least as marvelous, has been generated by an explosive and gigantically potent fusion process within the star at the center of our solar system, but there’s something mysterious about moonlight.

I wonder how much the light of the moon is affected by light from the Earth–is it a mix of light rebounding from the sun and from the Earth as well? Is there a faint touch of the light from our cities, reflected back here on my hand? Does our own light reach the moon and come back to us, altered by the bleakness of that stark, lifeless face?

You see the effect it has on me? My writing, at least in this short piece, has acquired bleary, pompous echoes of 19th century romance poets! My writing style, in this moment, is affected by the moonlight–another reflection, another alteration from the mysterious moon.

And the moon has a face carved upon it–the Man in the Moon–which some of us seem to see quite easily. I see it, clearly. Its features are proportional, one to the next, and detailed, and human; a face that just happens to be an average visage of one of the dominant species on the planet it circles.

I suppose I should look away from it, and go to bed.

Jan 15

How the Hell does it Happen?

How does a novel become a best seller? It seems to me there are three basic ways. At times they may overlap or intersect, while at other times one of them is the prime mover. Assuming the book is effectively written–for a relatively wide audience, or at least a receptive audience–its potential readership must first be made aware of it. Unless you’re already a best seller, I happen to think that bookstore signings are mostly useless. A more realistic hope for genuinely productive exposure is *hotly enthusiastic* reviews in high places–major print publications, like New York Times Book Review, or the online equivalent; even better, positive reviews on, say, National Public Radio or on television, or online sites with *very* high traffic by book buyers. A corollary is author interviews on television or radio, which can happen before the book is hot *only if* there is something unusual and entertaining or madly timely about its concept–likely pointed out to the venue by effective and connected publicists.

Second factor: widespread and expensive advertising based on the reviews or the hotness of the subject matter. This requires an improbable and expensive outlay by the publisher. The publisher may pay for ads–and they have to be in the right places–if the novel got giddy and well placed reviews or if the publisher had to bid for a novel because it got hot even before publication (usually requiring a really damned good, strategically placed literary agent). In for a hundred thousand, in for three hundred thousand.

Third, word of mouth, readers simply telling other readers, online or in person, about a novel that flashed past their defenses and got them worked up enough that they rapturously recommend it . . .Word of mouth is like lightning striking (John Brunner said in an interview, “Lightning never struck for me”) and persistent reader chatter can occasionally make an obscure book into a roaring success. It has even happened with some ebooks. Word of mouth that launches a best seller, or turns a fairly effective seller into a top seller, is almost invariably based on an *unusually high* level of enthusiasm–the readers truly enjoyed the *hell* out of that book. But on some occasions extensive word of mouth is primed by timing, by the book’s relevance to current trends, eg, when Zombie Apocalypse fiction was first getting hot; it can be stoked, too, by a subject simmering in the national collective mind, perhaps the tragedies associated with Hurricane Katrina. If you have a *good* Hurricane Katrina novel at the right moment to catch the wave…you can surf that wave. The writer of course has to be sharp, or a good storyteller–and the material has to seem reasonably fresh even if it’s part of a sub-genre.

Of course there are all sorts of ponderable and imponderable factors–editorial acumen and book-selling canniness, intelligent marketing personnel, book cover imagery, sexual trends in the reading public.

A publishing phenomenon that surprised a good many people was the success of Fifty Shades of Grey… but certainly word of mouth, social lightning striking, was instrumental in its emergence.

And a word of mouth that reaches that sort of “lightning striking” level usually arises with startling mysteriousness…

Jan 15

Bratty Kids. Sarah Palins kids? Mostly the Brat I’m thinking of is …Me.

“Photos of Sarah Palin’s son standing on dog stir debate whether it was animal abuse” say the captions. Right, he shouldn’t have stood on the dog and if she really encouraged him she shouldn’t have but I am now going to publicly confess that I did this SAME THING when I was about that age and the reason I remember it is because my Mom got really *mad* at me. I didn’t hurt the dog–a big dog which looked rather like that one but a little bigger.

Also when I was a little bitty kid and I got hold of some matches…yes I was playing with matches…I put some to a few of the kitty cat’s whiskers and melted them back a little. I didn’t think it was hurting the cat really as I recall and…I was WRONG, of course, it does harm the cat, they need those whiskers. Why do I remember? Because my older sister Bonnie got really *mad* at me. Boy she gave me a big lecture. She said “those are part of the cat’s sensory equipment. How would you like it if I set your nose or your ears on fire?!”

I was pretty bratty. I remember a fourth grade report card from school with a note that said, “John is very intelligent and would do much better in school if he would leave the girls alone and concentrate on his work.”

I liked to melt toys too and turn them into monsters using tweezers on softened plastic. Now I’m totally pushed around by pets and am practically their submissive slave.

But I might still melt some plastic toys.

Dec 14

Michael Moorcock, Elric and, yes, Me

MICHAEL MOORCOCK, who has recently turned 75 is one of my literary heroes partly because he started writing pulp — he wrote some Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiches to start out and, as I recall, he said he wrote them on amphetamine! Like, a novel a week! But he soon got over that writing habit (I think he switched to pots of tea) and went on to write more resonant pulp / genre works, like the Elric books, and innovative works like the Jerry Cornelius books and the Dancers at the End of Time series–a favorite of mine. He helped launch the important New Wave in science fiction and as editor he re-launched the very influential magazine New Worlds. He wrote a fine award winning novella that atheists should prize: Behold the Man. . . And then he made the leap into big serious fantasy and historical fiction crossovers with a political slant and began to be taken seriously by mainstream critics. The fact that he could make this journey delights me. “He’s one who escaped the ghetto”. (When I was a mere stripling of a science fiction writer I heard many sf writers grumble about the science-fiction / fantasy “ghetto” in publishing). But even now he will also write his artful pulp when he chooses.

When I was young I corresponded a bit with Moorcock. The letters were lost in one of my many moves (unless one of my exes has them?) …I remember he said, after reading my first two novels, “I see that, like me, you write on adrenaline.” Yes indeed. Anyway, he was not only kind to me he was inspirational to me.

And he and I are members of a small exclusive club: writers who have written lyrics for the Blue Oyster Cult! He wrote songs like Black Blade and Veteran of the Psychic Wars for them…

I do admire Elric still and I once pitched some ideas for an Elric movie to Paramount…they never got around to making it with any writer. Probably couldn’t get past the albino thing… I wanted to have Val Kilmer (who was young then) play him in white makeup and with contact lenses…

Dec 14

The New Heroin Epidemic

We’re in the midst of an epidemic of heroin addiction in the USA. It’s increased 50 percent in the last four years. Where’d it come from? A pharmaceutical company called Purdue created Oxycontin, and pushed it for every little ache, and downplayed its opiate addictive qualities. Whereas it turned out to be hugely addictive. Problems arose, and the government made it harder to get. People addicted to Oxy and other painkillers–pills which had been pushed by manufacturers and doctors as Oxy had–turned to heroin. Word got out that here was a big market, in small towns and suburbs, for heroin. Dealers proliferated to answer the demand. I know a lot of people who were hurt by this. And not enough is being done to help them.

Essentially, they were victimized by pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible doctors. It really is not their fault. So why aren’t we helping them?

And if they haven’t sued them already–these victims should mount class action lawsuits against Purdue pharmaceuticals.

Dec 14

Stoner Steve, Stoner Stan, Moses, Noah, and Jesus, Bruh

Duuuude!” cried Stoner Steve. “You just watch this gnarly Noah movie with me. I just watched it. It’s trippy as shit.”

“Whoaaa,” said Stoner Stan, sitting beside Steve on his ash-dusted sofa, “No way! My old man was into that Bible shit. I said, ‘Those Muslims and those Hindus, they got holy books, what’s wrong with those. He kicked me out for a week. That shit was cold, man!”

“Bruh, okay, here’s the thing, just because it’s bullshitty myth faked up shit doesn’t mean there’s not, like, seeds and stems of truth. Like, Noah–maybe there was a guy who was watching the weather, and he had some almanac shit going on, and he got real high and had a hallucination talk with his own brain and thought God was telling him to build a boat so he built a pretty big boat and put all his farm animals, like his goats and sheeps and turkeys and shit on it, and maybe a couple burros, and some of his peeps too, and the flood came and drowned a buncha people in the villages around there–you know, like it was some local shit but to those fuckers, that was the world–and he didn’t get his peeps and his farm animals drowned because of his boat and it got dumped on that one mountain down kinda low and the rest was a lot of made-up shit. Like when Lanny takes shrooms and says space aliens pick her up.”

“I guess, bruh but–”

“And that Moses dude, it’s like, he was this Hebrew guy stuck in Egypt with some of his people and asked the Pharoah, Yo man let us go back to, like, Israel and the guy said fuck off. So then Moses prayed and it they had different food to eat than the Egyptians and they Egyptians got food poisoning but the Hebrews didn’t and maybe some kinda grasshopper infestation came in, and it was some coincidence shit. And the Pharoah said whatevas, leave then, so Moses took his peeps outta Egypt but then the Pharoah said no fuck this and sent his soldiers but there was some tidal shit going on because the moon was close so it blocked off the soldiers from following and it seemed like a miracle. And it was all just the roll of the dice stuff. But it got made into a big fucking story. Oh and then Moses and his peeps got lost in the desert a couple years and they ate that gooey stuff from that Tamarisk tree they called manna and then Moses got sick of wandering and saw a nice village and he like hallucinated the lord told him go in there and kill them all and take their shit and he did, he killed almost all the people and enslaved the other ones–”

“He did that? Fucked up!”

“Oh yeah, Moses had his peeps murder a lot of other people’s peeps. It’s in the book of Numbers.”

“Speaking of that–you want to smoke another number?”

“In a second. So anyway, there’s Jesus, he was real but he was just this pretty good guy, though he could be a dick too, and he was kinda crazy-ass figuring that he was the messiah and he was really smart and he got crucified but all that other shit about him was made up. But here’s the thing–Noah, that was like a message, don’t do bad shit or bad shit will happen and good people’ll be cool but what goes around comes around for the bad people. And Moses it was like, have faith, yo, and don’t give up and wait for your chance and the ten commandments, that shows people got to have rules.”

“But you said Moses was a murdering dickhead.”

“Nobody perfect, dude. And the Jesus thing is, like, turn the cheek and do unto others as you’d have em do and shit. So they make up the myths out of a little bit of stuff that maybe happened so they can try to tell people to stop like being dicks and shit.”

“Steve how come you know all this shit?”

“Oh I got an Masters in comparative religion, man. Hadda do something in school. Hey–Lanny left some shrooms!”

“Let’s do ‘em!”

One hour later. “Steve–what you staring at out the window? You’re talking to something out there! You’re trippin balls!”

“Dude! That bush outside the window’s on fire! But it ain’t burning up! And it’s talking to me!”

“Righteous! Let’s take some more shrooms bruh.”

Dec 14

They canceled “The Interview” movie…And It Just Hit Me That…

It’s always more complex than you think it is. International affairs–even the absurd kind. I reacted with somewhat kneejerk irascibility to the news that the comedy film The Interview was not going to be released due to North Korean threats. I was howling about our first amendment rights being trampled by dictatorial foreigners–but I had forgotten one key factor. Sony is based primarily in Japan–headquartered in K┼Źnan Minato, Tokyo.

Japan has a history with the Koreas and Japan is a neighbor to North Korea, with only the relatively dainty Sea of Japan in between. A threat to Sony can be carried out in Japan fairly easily, with operatives or long range weaponry. North Korea claims to have missiles that can reach Japan. North Korea’s leader may not be quite sane. His dad was certainly crazy as a grasshopper on PCP. So that’s probably a lot of the calculation–and it’s not just about American media and threats to us. So the decision might’ve been made on *that* basis. They’re not all that worried about the USA’s first amendment.

So maybe I was more or less wrong, in practicality if not in principle. I’ll see the movie (only because the North Koreans don’t want me to) when it is, inevitably, leaked online.

UPDATE: Sony’s putting the film out in limited release so I guess they grew some balls. Or one ball anyway.