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Sunday 5/3/20

This is the entry from the other day.


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Isn't this nice? It's the start of an essay I'm writing on the Beatles' Let It Be album and Let It Be film.


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Fifty years ago, on May 8, 1970, the Beatles, creators of the rock and roll LP as art form, released their final record, one whose title served as reminder, admonishment, and plain good advice to let the past be the past.


In a catalogue with a solid half dozen albums that can make a case for the best the medium has produced—with some fun dark horses to stump for—Let It Be is almost universally cited as the group’s worst long-form platter. Having said as much once, I received death threats from assorted baby boomers whose Facebook profiles were littered with peace signs, but so it goes, one supposes, when the subject of the Beatles is upon the table.


The irony is that I have always loved Let It Be, from the first time a friend played it for me when I was fifteen. I had been digging the early stuff hard—“She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the primal raucousness that is Please Please Me. He cued up the lo-fi urban folk of “Two of Us,” with its singular blend of of Everly Brother harmonies and Nick Drake languor, prompting me to ask who this was. I wasn’t even sure at first. “Never mind who it is,” he said. “Just listen.”


That was a perfect way to get around the usual critical brickbats that dog Let It Be. Romanticists who prefer the Beatles’ run to end with a flourish of grandeur rather than the nuts-and-bolts realities of life—and artistic life, after a fashion—take comfort that Abbey Road, released in the autumn of 1969, was really the Beatles’ last album, given that Let It Be had been cut earlier in that year and shelved. The band didn’t take a sanguine view of their potential product, with Lennon terming the results of the sessions “the shittiest piece of shit” his kickass beat combo had ever recorded.


Not that they were his band so much at that point, with Paul McCartney in the unenviable role of musical director, chief cheerleader, leading energy source, grating taskmaster. It may well have been time for the Beatles to die—at least for a little while—and take up their second life as a band whose music would never really know past, present, and future again, having matriculated to a place in the world’s great storehouse of art that might as well have the word “timeless” carved into the door. I would argue that Let It Be the record and Let It Be the film—as honest a rock and roll movie that has ever been made—were invaluable with that incising, in the case of the Beatles. One should sleep on neither, and spend time with both.


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I had a worrisome conversation with a publicist a week or two ago. I learned nothing new, but it was nonetheless an underscoring and yet another confirmation of one of the main problems here. A nice person, this publicist, a smart person, and someone on my side. I can tell pretty early on where someone is aligning themselves with me. Often, they are across from me. Even people I've known for decades. They are going to enter into whatever with me as if in opposition. They take a place at the other side of the table, facing off. Some people start out on the side. Neutral. Unbiased. No agenda one way or the other. Open. Others start more or less next to me. Inclined, going in, to take up my cause or point of view. Normally, I know the truth. Whatever the situation, whatever the subject. I don't have ego--I deal in honesty and truth. If something is the best thing ever written, I know it, if it's something I need to work on a lot, I know that, too. Anyway, the publicist had spent time at the site, but still asked me questions which I thought (well, once upon a time; no longer) would have obvious answers and would require no asking to anyone who had spent much time at all at the site.


For instance: Do I have my own radio program? Also, am I interviewed on the radio or do I interview people? Something that is very scary which I've realized is that it's almost impossible, no matter how clear you are or something is, to get anything across so that it is completely understood. It's hard to say to someone, "An orange is orange," and not have them say back to you, "So you're saying that it's dark green?" I think the site is lucidly laid out. I think it makes it rather clear what I do. What a person might struggle with is accepting that any one other person can do what I do. But there it is. There is the proof. The world's leading film expert is the leading expert on sports, art, music, literature, who writes excellent op-eds, is the best on the radio, writes the best fiction, is the personal essay person, and, oh yeah, has a unique blog that is more voluminous than any other blog in the world, while everything else is going on, being done. There it is. The work--both in quality and quantity--backs it up. I don't think anyone has ever read anything of mine on any subject, and come away thinking, "I bet there's someone who knows more about that." Before you even get into the depth of the knowledge, the insight, the relevance, the energy and connectivity of the work even if you don't know or care about a given subject, do you know what the chances are that someone has even heard of all of this stuff? A fraction of it? This isn't like, "Oh, I'll write about this subject every lazy slob is writing about." It's not like editors say, hey, give me an M.R. James piece, give me a piece on Joy Division's last song, give me a piece on the underrated Flyers teams of the mid-1980s, a piece on a photograph of Lou Gehrig no one knows exists, a piece on Maupassant and painting, a piece on a play by teenage Orson Welles. I don't think it's possible to honestly think that, "Yeah, I'm sure others know more." No matter what I am writing about. Talking about. I can say this because, well, what is the risk at this point, this journal has a rule of truth above all, and, again, I back it up. I don't back it up one or two times. I back it up thousands of undeniable times. This is the reality. It's not my fault it's the reality. If you insist upon having a problem, your problem should not be with me, but with reality. I am what I am, what I say I am, and what one can see that I am.


The publicist--again, an at least averagely smart person (albeit one who told me Carolyn Knapp, with her box-of-wine Hallmark-isms, was a "brilliant" writer), well-meaning (though completely ruled and held back by fear), and a nice person, so far as I could tell--was clearly at a loss. She made a remark that baseball was my speciality, and then I do some "other things." Why did she say this? It's always the same. Someone sees or hears one thing. Whatever that first thing is that they click on, or their eye falls upon. They assume, because of the expertise I have displayed on that subject, and because of how everyone else in the world is, save myself, who is a purported expert on one thing, that that must be my thing. I couldn't know something else as well as that initial thing, and certainly not things very far removed. It's funny that I rarely even talk about my Beatles work on here, but I am sure there are lots of people who are huge Beatles fans who know me primarily as the Beatles guy. I bet they never looked into anything else. Why would you? You'd assume that author had devoted their life to that subject, nothing else. That person couldn't be hockey guy and endless fiction art guy and, lately, guy who is an expert on English literature of the 1660s. Jazz guy. But that's me. I suggested--because what else could I say?--that it was a bit more complicated than that, and she might have a look around the site to get an idea. She said that she was used to someone--and clients--having a regular area, a regular beat. I didn't have one, in her view. I do. My beat is mega-genius. That's my beat. Unique mind in history. That is my area. That is what someone should be trying to harness, to make a fortune while also impacting and changing the world in powerful and unique ways. Find the way to harness the marketing possibilities of a unique human with a unique mind, who also has a unique personality and a unique ability to inspire. I think it's pretty obvious. But people go in with assumptions--however much they think they don't--and boundaries, limitations, that come from what they know of everyone else. That gets projected on me. Before you start to spend the time, the energy, required to get to know what I am. Then, as that happens, you have to be able to accept it. As unlikely as it seems. Because there it is.


Same day I was talking to somebody else. Big Beatles fan. She said something about the Maharishi. And, because I am me, I had a piece on that. You can mention almost anything, it feels like, and I'll have at least one piece on it. (In the few conversations I have aloud with people, I now generally pretend not to have things I have, when a given subject comes up, because it would just be me, over and over again, saying, "Once I wrote..." and I don't want to do that.) I didn't know where it was, exactly, as this site is out of date and not very well updated--I mean, I noticed the other day that this big Beatles feature I wrote for The Atlantic on the band's 1963 BBC recordings isn't even on here yet--but I sent her a link to the Beatles section of the site. You get the description of the articles, and if you want to find one on whatever, it's pretty easy. And she was overwhelmed. She didn't expect that. Was a fraction of the output, on that one subject, but it clearly rattled her. People take stock of their own lives, knowledge, ability, effort, I've noticed, when they see what I do. That's why some people fear me, or don't like me. Not because of something I've done to them. But how seeing what I do makes them feel. Publishing people don't like me for lots of reasons, but in general, I have always intimidated people, which is another problem. I'm nice. Anyone who deals with me with any degree of decency will tell you how kind I am. How giving I am. How loyal I am. The things that I give that is all behind the scenes, which no one ever sees or learns about. Even with everything I have going on and my present situation and state.


The way the publicist thinks is thusly: There's someone who is an expert--though the people you're told are experts rarely are, it's just their job; I hear sports "experts" all the time, and they're yahoos who know no more about sports than your drunken buddy did in college--on, say, child-rearing. They write a book on the terrible two's. Cue creation of rote press release, spamming of book review sections. (Have the right agent, the right publicist sending the rote PR release, and if you're a person of the system, and you get your book reviewed.) During this time of COVID-19, they are booked for an appearance on a talk show to talk about how to keep your toddlers entertained and their development facilitated even while a lot of the world is on pause. And that's what they do. You never have to think that much, get creative, expend any energy, come up with a clever line, clever summary, clever tease, to sell that person. You are on auto-pilot. That's almost every publicist there is. Trust me, they spam me 200 times a day. There's rarely anything that's not the same old, same old. I find almost all of the people they are shilling for people who can only earn so much because they can only do so much and it's pretty boring. I mean, I guess somebody has to give that interview. But who really cares that much?


In publishing, you'll see that someone who writes absolutely indecipherable nonsense will have a publicist. They always write work you can't understand. It's always the same form, the same length, tone, if there is even a tone. It's meaningless. The publicist spams people and uses the worlds "innovative fiction" a lot. It's total bullshit. Pure slop. But, that person does the cronyism thing, hooks up their buddies, gets hooked up, pretends that awful writers and presses are the greatest ever bee's knees, and they get the MacArthur, they get the Guggenheim, and that's how it is. But no one on earth honestly gives a rat's ass. I need someone with a little vision. I'm going to put most of the gas in your car. I'm going to give you the car. I need you to have the vision to more or less drive it down the road a little bit. Help it get out there. I will even put the words in your mouth. I know how to say what I do. I know how to make it ring with excitement. You have to, too, have the balls to go there. Go there. Say what this dude is. Say it. Just because no one else is what I am doesn't mean you shouldn't say what I am. In a presentable, ebullient, non-obnoxious way. The work is going to back it up. No one is going to say, "Wait, he doesn't know that much about the Beatles and doesn't write that amazing fiction and know seemingly everything about literature." No one is going to say that. You can't say that. You just can't. However much you might hate me and want to, you can't say it. Unless you want to make an ass out of yourself and show your true colors of prejudice, envy, insecurity, whatever they may be. And this isn't even a lifetime thing. I get it. What I do in a given week, if you told someone was the work of the course of a lifetime, would be hard to believe. I understand. But it still is what it is. And what it is is a power that can be put out there to do what nothing else can. It is right here. Waiting.