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Tuesday 5/7/19

This is a little wrong. Apologies in advance. As I mentioned, Emma, my upstairs protege, has been sick. So the other day I texted her saying, "If it's the AIDS we can still be friends but no more first bumps." Perfectly normal. So today I started getting a sore throat.

C: I may be getting sick. I hope you didn't give me the AIDS.

E: We on the same horse now cOwbOY

C: That was amusing.

I do love that kid.

I had mentioned composing a 1100 word piece on the relationship of jazz and cinema. This piece involved a set-up on my part--the working through of ideas--with five subsequent examples and write-ups following. JazzTimes asked me to turn five into ten, so I took ten minutes and did that. I thought I could get something on Bloch's Psycho and MacDonald's Revolution in the Head assigned by The Daily Beast, but I was wrong on both counts. I did pitch something else on the sequel to Robinson Crusoe. This Beatles/Revolution in the Head piece would be great and do well, though, so I'd like to find a venue. I respect MacDonald. I view him as competition of a sort.

I had also mentioned a personal essay kind of work I had composed on Saturday, at 1800 words, and my view that I would not be able to place it with the place I had intended it for, which will mean I'll have to refurbish it as a piece. It had utility anyway as other things I wish to do with it. Well, on Sunday night, a new story came to me while I slept, as had happened in the past with "First Responder" and "Jacks." This meant that upon awaking I formally composed a 2000 word story called "Three Snakes." A man--who is wifeless--is upstairs in his house with his son and daughter. In an unfurnished room, now disused, he sees three snakes--a kingsnake, corn snake, milk snake. He summons his children over. The snakes do something which cause them to disappear, and from where they disappeared, what I will here call a chain of beings, begins to emerge, in a line across the room. The man and his children quietly shut the door and repair to the living room, where the man has a barn red-colored chair. He calls services--as it's known in the story--saying that this line of beings is not something he'll be able to dispose of on his own. The service call automatically bars the doors and windows. These three will have to get through the night, without venturing upstairs, so the man invents a game they can play upon the chair. Eventually they fall asleep. The man awakes and hears his wife's voice, summoning him. He'll have reason to doze back off. But the boy, when he awakes, decides to mount the stairs, because in that line of newly birthed beings, covered in glycerin-like material, he saw a boy that he thought might have been him. And the story will play out from there.

One of my readers, who was sent both works--again, the one was composed on Saturday, the other Monday--sent me this:

"I'm blaming you for not doing my job today. I read 3 I said in an email, glad I read it at school and not at home in bed. or in an old red chair. That was some seriously creepy awesomeness. I should have stopped there but I read Dallas Erin during my lunch break and you had me tearing up at my desk. Heartbreaking and somehow hopeful. You don't need me to tell you this but there aren't many people who could do either of those pieces and nobody else that could create both of them."

But keep detesting that guy, publishing, because of his virtues. Keep your arms locked. Don't let him in. Keep denying the world this art. That's right. Punish the world. Take out your hate on this one person and thus the world by depriving the world of what that person can uniquely, effortlessly, constantly, do. Things may well be about to somehow get worse. I have to weather it. I have to have faith that this cannot go on indefinitely. I literally have no competition. With writing, with range of writing, with radio, other things. There is no one I look at--because there is no one--and say, "Hmmm, they're for real, have to be on my game to beat them." I see a lot of people who are terrible at what they do, who do not approach even competence, who got things for reasons having nothing to do with the (completely absent) quality of their work, and I see next to no talent out there. I've seen it before. I don't see any right now. And if you are one of the so-called "stars" made by this system, you can be offended by this, but you're not going to say anything beyond what you already do in the back channels where you already gossip about me. Because you know what I am, and you know what you are, and you would never have the courage to take me on in public when it is mind v. mind.

This how the piece which my reader refers to as Dallas Erin begins. It's the nonfiction one:

When you are dating—or, rather, about to be dating—someone who texts you a photo of their dying mother’s arm, straight from the hospital bed, you can feel ghoulish, like you’re Boris Karloff in a 1940s horror movie.

I looked at that arm Erin had sent me from Dallas, in my own bed in Boston, feeling a disturbing mattress-based synchronicity, minus one guard rail.

The arm was desiccated, freckled with marks not yet at the liver spot level. It looked decidedly twig-ish, but one of those autumn twigs that has blown some distance from the tree it once was a part of. I peered at this photo, I looked at it again, and I thought, “Okay, this could be a dying woman.”

Erin phoned me a lot from the hospital. In one instance she was in a custodian’s closet, having ducked out of her mother’s room. We had met online. When you do a lot of what seems to be the only form of meeting people left these days—allowing that you and future-beloved probably won’t simultaneously reach for a melon at the market and tumble into Romantic Conversation #1—you nonetheless encounter a lot of old school pieces of advice from people fortunate enough to already be paired up.

I call it getting out of the pool. There you are, in the deep end, everyone swimming around, and you envy your buddy because he’s up on terra firma, all toweled off, and in fact has his own island, populated by his wife and his kids, and he never has to be in the deep end again. He’s part of the landed gentry of love. People will say, “It’s a numbers game,” “You get out of these things what you put into them,” and the wretchedly evergreen, for it is among the most irksome of these remarks, “You can’t be loved until you love yourself.”

I don’t really date. I either connect, or I don’t connect. Connection is one of the rarest commodities in our world, more than ever. You know it those few times you have it. Insta-rapport. Overlapping values. You and that person are both part of the world—for you comment on it often with each other—and hermetically sealed from it. You’re both a paradox, and something logical.

This is the start of the short story, "Three Snakes." What I have come to learn with my horror fiction is that it is unlike other horror fiction in that it is scarier, but it is also, often, heartening, warming; it's deeply emotional, it's even unifying. I know horror. I've read it all. And even in the ghost stories I love, I've not seen anyone do this. Benson doesn't do it. E.F. or A.C. M.R. James doesn't do it. Some of these stories I am doing--this one, "Pillow Drift"--are both entirely horror and also something else entirely. When "Pillow Drift" becomes a film, it will go down as one of the scariest ever made, but so much more than that. You could love it as a horror buff. You could love it as someone who does not like horror at all.

“You two,” the father spoke clearly, unwaveringly, to his children, who approached him in the half-dark of the upstairs hallway.

The boy joined him, peering into the rarely unfurnished room, leaving a crack for his sister to join him, her side dug into the jamb.

“Let me see,” she said, then repeated the phrase, as younger siblings are wont to do.

“There, look,” said the father, “and there, and there.”

His index finger poked the air like that it was pressing invisible elevator buttons, unsure which floor to commit to.

“They are all the same kind?” the girl asked.

“Nah, not even a little,” her brother scorned. “Right dad? They’re all different.”

“They are different,” the father said, now that his eyes had adjusted to the light.

There were three snakes on the carpeted ground. It was a thin carpet. He remembered unrolling it himself and cutting it to fit the corners when they had first bought the house.

“They come in for the warmth,” the father added. “The one with the patches of red clouds on the orange is a corn snake.” He felt more confident now. “This one here”—he pressed another button in the air—“with the black head and then the yellow, black, and orange bands, is a kingsnake.” They still had not crossed the threshold of the room. “And that other one, by the light socket, with the red-black-yellow, s a milk snake. People used to think they bit cow udders and drained their milk to feed.”

“Gross,” the girl said.

“Neat,” reprimanded her brother.

“You’re right,” she allowed. “It is kind of neat. I’m thirsty.”

A grasshopper, seeming to have a limp, as if it had already been clipped in battle, loped itself towards the kingsnake, which slowly opened its jaws and absorbed the grasshopper in a single motion. It seemed like a sacrifice to the boy. Perhaps the right thing to do in this context. He did not know the history of these animals.

Today on Downtown, Mr. Kimball and I began with a quick discussion on Charlie McAvoy's completely legal, solid body check from last night's series-clinching Bruins game, which the PC crowd, lacking any meaning or purpose in life on which to instead focus, has chosen to lambast as yet another example of societal evil-doing. Want to know what one of the worst combos in human history is? It's when someone is both smug and sententious and self-righteous, and completely ignorant. Then we discussed six films with a thriller/thrilling aspect from 1944: The Scarlet Claw, Bluebeard, Gaslight, Double Indemnity, Laura, and The Uninvited. The joke about dating Gene Tierney was pretty good.

I also updated some of the various sections of this website today. The Literature writings tab now includes all of the links--I think--going back to summer 2013. The Beatles tab was also updated, also the Op-eds and Film writings tabs. Again, nothing is earlier than 2013, and I plan to go back to 2008 or so. The On air tab is also up to date, barring tonight's segment. There are dozens of hours of material on there to listen to. You can scour the globe, and you will find nothing like that voice in radio, anywhere. It's not happening. That range of subjects, each entered into with the same amount of expertise and quality of idea. What do you compare that to? Who does that? I am proving that nothing in this world, outside of sports, has anything to do with merit. I am the living proof of that. I have definitively proven it. Now I need to find the solution. For me personally. I believe that my solution will also help provide the solution for others who are out there.

This is the Revolution in the Head pitch, by the way:

I was just rereading Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, which came out 25 years ago. Pretty much the most controversial Beatles book ever--even more so than the tell all bios, and the bios with large swaths of made up stuff--because MacDonald, in this masterpiece of music criticism, elected to paste them when they deserved pasting. It's the most valuable Beatles book. It's honest. He knew music every which way, and when he called a song "pressurized hack work"--as he did with the band's cover of "Bad Boy"--I have always enjoyed his views and thought about them, even when I didn't agree with them. He was also a great writer at the level of the sentence. I've learned a lot from him. Alas, he killed himself in 2003. I remember being worried when I read a long essay he wrote about Nick Drake. I think MacDonald was a brilliant man who found it hard to find other brilliant people.

But back to our thesis: Beatles fans have a strange relationship with this book. Some are truly threatened by it, whereas people more secure in themselves tend to love it and reread it. As a work of nonfiction about music, I'll put this one up there with Berlioz's Memoirs, Dylan's Chronicles, Gunther Schuller's The Swing Era. More and more I see that people are most comfortable with puffery. They want you to provide no insight, to just say, "Hooray for Paul McCartney!" or it's like you're threatening them. You shouldn't be bothered by someone offering up an honest critical view, which they're backing up--they're not doing it for clicks or show. Sure, they can be doing it for money--to sell a great book that can actually make a difference! I remember reading an interview a quarter of a century ago with Noel Gallagher and he was talking about how MacDonald changed how he heard the Beatles.

We also have this idea of why are we so threatened by someone holding a different viewpoint on an artistic subject? For instance, I think "A Day in the Life" is the finest achievement in the history of recorded sound. But if MacDonald said it was overblown, paste rather than a diamond, and he went on about that for ten pages, well, I need to read those ten pages! Because I like how a top-drawer mind works, and even if it doesn't budge me from what I believe, I want someone else's perspective.

But this book is kind of the black sheep of Beatles books (our headline could go in this direction), though it is one of the few that will last. This book could be read in 250 years.

I will write about some newly discovered Stan Getz NYC club dates from 1961 for JazzTimes. I also did something a bit different today and floated the idea with my editor there about me doing a short story. They don't do them. Then again, people who write on music are rarely people who can also write fiction. I thought this could be a great idea for a one-off and my editor values me so it couldn't hurt to ask. I don't know what the story would be. No need to think about that right now. But I would find the perfect subject. Perhaps it would be a work of historical fiction. As longtime readers of this journal know, at some point I will be writing a story collection with the fiction centered around the Beatles. But not about the Beatles. So one story will be about a rival band in Hamburg, another story about British school children who tape Beatles BBC broadcasts off of the radio. I could do this with jazz, around a figure like Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington or a fascinating, lesser known figure. Ike Quebec. Tina Brooks. The "for example" example I gave concerned some college kids who host Ornette Coleman for a weekend when he comes to their town for a university gig. You could also do a story in such a way that it ties in with concerns of this current age. I'm thinking 3500 to 4000 words. Maybe less.

I don't feel well and I should lie down. I think tomorrow I can have a historic day of composing. Any time I write I make art. I work for an hour, I have art. That's how it is now with the level I have gotten to. My concern is people getting a chance to see it, with what has happened here, and also that I have too much of it. You can go through everything the Beatles did in a day. To even begin to get into my body of already need years. Who is going to go through it all? And if this works out, and I have a reason to live and wish to live, it'll be that I've just gotten started with what I've done to date. I have figured out every last mystery of art-making. I have all the answers and all the means. That does not stop me from making new discoveries within my own abilities in terms of what I might do and then do that I haven't done before. My throat hurts. I feel like I've drank a bucket of old man seed. I will take my leave tonight with this Sherlock Holmes radio production of "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane," one of two Sherlock Holmes short stories narrated by Holmes himself. Trivia: Do you know the other? This adaptation takes some liberties. First off, in the actual story, Watson is not present. Holmes has retired. He lives by the sea. Where he lives sounds a lot like Rockport, where I am trying to live again. He's retired now. Watson comes to visit him in this adaptation. All of that is new, for the point of this dramatization. But I love it. it's the sound of true friendship. It's loving and gentle and also very funny, but in a wise way. Note the part when Holmes calls attention to his gardens. It's a reference to Watson's sense of Holmes and his strengths and weaknesses shortly after they met. This recording is a little muffled--you can find clearer versions. But it's the only stand-alone one on YouTube.


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